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America’s declining power, in one quote

UN chief Antonio Guterres says the “attraction of American society” is less clear today than a few decades ago.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres thinks America is in decline.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres thinks America is in decline.
Kena Betancur/Getty Images

The United States once touted itself as a “city on a hill” — a country whose strength and influence in the world came from the power of its example. The root of that strength, ultimately, lay in the allure of American society.

Now, the head of the United Nations is warning that that allure may no longer be as compelling to the rest of the world as it once was — and that America’s power is being weakened because of it.

The “attraction of American society that was a dominant factor in international relations just a few decades ago is today less clear,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in an interview with the Atlantic’s Uri Friedman on Thursday.

Guterres didn’t mention President Donald Trump by name, but he didn’t have to. Instead, he cited America’s new, more belligerent approach to trade, its hostility to curbing climate change, and its retreat from standing up for human rights around the world. All of these changes stem from Trump’s foreign policy and his antipathy to so-called “globalism.”

But Guterres also noted that America’s dulling shine isn’t just about its own actions. Other countries — mainly China — and have started to gain influence around the world while America loses it. Which means that Trump’s policies — which purposely eschew international cooperation and engagement — come at the most inopportune time.

That’s why Guterres’s criticism is so stunning: One of the world’s top diplomats is saying that Trump hasn’t made America great again — he’s made it weaker.

It’s probably too late to reverse America’s deteriorating global standing under Trump, mainly because he’s unlikely to suddenly change his worldview before leaving office. The question now is whether whoever replaces Trump in the Oval Office can push America back up the hill in time.

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